While many people believe that a helmet with MIPS technology does a better job at preventing head injuries than non-MIPS helmets, there are still some who are on the fence about its effectiveness.
In this article, we’ll explain what MIPS helmet technology is and how it protects the head and skull. More importantly, we’ll take a deep dive into the question of ‘is MIPS worth it’, or if it’s just another marketing tactic that helmet manufacturers use to increase sales.
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The most recent independent research studies conclude that MIPS, along with other ‘Rotation-Damping Systems’, like WaveCel and SPIN, is effective in reducing the likelihood of suffering rotational motion and brain injuries caused by oblique impact.
What is MIPS?
MIPS stands for Multi-Directional Impact Protection System, a brain protection technology founded by a Stockholm-based company of the same name. Swedish neurosurgeon Hans van Holst and Royal Institute of Technology researcher Peter Halldin conceptualized this pioneering technology in 1996 to create a safer headgear for helmet-bearing activities and professions.
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After years of research and testing, they finally made the prototype of a MIPS helmet in 2000, which aimed to reduce the rotational forces that can affect the brain in case the wearer hits their head in an angled impact during a fall.
In the early days, MIPS technology was widely used in bicycle and snow-sport helmets. It has since expanded into the fields of equestrian, hockey, football, motorcycle, and race car helmets. Industries requiring the use of safety helmets, such as the construction industry, also benefit from MIPS technology.
MIPS continues to build partnerships with helmet brands not only to enhance the riding experience but more importantly, to decrease the number of brain injuries resulting from accidents. If you see a helmet with a yellow dot and the MIPS logo, then it is fitted with the MIPS brain protection system.
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Tipperary does a good job of explaining MIPS in this video.
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MIPS is not a safety certification system and does not replace the existing helmet safety standard certifications such as ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials), CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission), DOT (Department of Transport), etc.
All helmets still require the necessary certifications that are mandated by various laws. MIPS is an optional addition to a helmet which simply enhances the effectiveness of the helmet’s level of safety.
How Does MIPS Work?
Imagine this. A cyclist accidentally hits a bump in the road, causing him to lose control of his bike. When the cyclist falls to the ground, at what angle do you think he will hit his head? Will the cyclist’s head smack the pavement vertically, just like when a fruit drops from a tree?
Certainly not. Such a scenario is where non-MIPS helmets lack the capability to provide the needed head protection. The MIPS technology resolves this issue. A MIPS-equipped helmet protects the head against rotational and angular impacts, which are likely to happen if you fall from a bike or motorcycle head first.
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The MIPS slip-plane system is typically a yellow polycarbonate layer that sits between the helmet’s EPS (Expanded PolyStyrene) layer and the helmet wearer’s head. The MIPS slip-plane connects to the inside of the helmet by elastomeric attachments which can move slightly, about 10 – 15 millimeters, in any direction.
During an impact, the shock absorbing EPS foam liner provides the first layer of protection by absorbing the initial force of impact. Then, the sliding movement of the slip-plane system allows the head to move slightly which slows down and reduces the amount of force transferred to the brain because of the impact.
Are MIPS Helmets Safer?
Giving this question a straightforward answer is a challenge. After all, all helmets, whether they are equipped with a MIPS layer or not, must pass safety standards before they can be sold.
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However, the following can support the concept of MIPS helmets being safer than regular helmets.
Research Study Results support that MIPS technology reduces strain to the brain caused by rotational forces.
Impact Performance Comparison of Advanced Bicycle Helmets with Dedicated Rotation-Damping Systems – July 2019.
This 2019 study tested several types of helmets to find out which one is more effective in protecting the brain from risks of serious injuries. It included five types of bike helmets in the testing environment. Those were standard helmets with a polycarbonate shell and EPS liner, MIPS slip-plane liner helmets, Omni-Direction Suspension helmets with elastic dampers, Low-Density Layer helmets with viscoelastic padding, and SPIN helmets with silicone padding.
Each helmet group was subjected to drop tests that used a testing rig where the helmets drop to an anvil which sits at an angle of 45-degrees from the floor. The results of the study showed that the MIPS and SPIN helmets were more successful in reducing the risk of brain trauma and injuries by 42% and 54% respectively.
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A New Assessment of Bicycle Helmets: The Brain Injury Mitigation Effects of New Technologies in Oblique Impacts – May 2021
Another study was published in May 2021 to determine the effectiveness of new bike helmet technologies in mitigating brain injuries caused by oblique forces. The study tested several types of helmets including road, MTB, and urban/skate helmets. Some of the test helmets were conventional helmets while the others were equipped with safety-enhancing technology such as MIPS, SPIN, WaveCel, and Airbag.
Based on the test results, the helmets with new technologies performed better in reducing brain strain due to oblique impact.
QUOTE: “When comparing … helmet versions with and without MIPS, we find that strain measures in all brain regions are reduced with the MIPS versions.”https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8109224/
Impact Performance Comparison of Advanced Snow Sport Helmets with Dedicated Rotation-Damping Systems – February 2021
Results from this study on snow sport helmets, published in February 2021, further supports previous findings that helmets equipped with rotation-damping systems can reduce rotational acceleration and the risks of injuries related to it. The snow sports helmets tested included standard helmets and helmets with MIPS and WaveCel technologies.
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QUOTE: “In conclusion, rotation-damping systems of advanced snow sport helmets can significantly reduce rotational head acceleration and the associated concussion risk. ”https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10439-021-02723-0
The following video gives a simplified explanation of how MIPS works. Well worth a watch.
Conclusion: Is MIPS Worth It?
Even before MIPS technology existed, standard helmets have been tested for safety to help ensure that cyclists, bikers, motocross riders and other sports persons are protected from suffering head and brain injuries should they figure in an accident.
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However, current safety certification testing procedures only test a helmet’s capacity in reducing direct or linear impact but not rotational impact. It is also noteworthy that the impact of real-life accidents on a person’s head can be different from the impact produced during helmet safety testing.
Perhaps it’s time for the relevant authorities to review their testing procedures to at least acknowledge the need to include oblique impact testing.
The MIPS company provides that helmets with the MIPS feature can reduce the impact of rotational forces by 10%. However, they do not claim that MIPS-equipped helmets are safer than regular helmets. Nor do they say that MIPS helmets can reduce concussions or brain injury.
If the pioneers of the MIPS technology say that MIPS only reduces the effect of rotational impact, and do not claim that MIPS-equipped helmets are safer than non-MIP helmets, then the question remains – is MIPS worth it?
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What consumers can take away from this is: with MIPS technology, riders can be more confident that they will receive better protection against rotational forces by 10%. This percentage, though may seem modest, is still better than nothing, if it means reducing the probability of traumatic brain injuries.
This boy is hoping his Mom bought him the MIPS version of the helmet.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q. Is a MIPS Helmet Necessary?
A. Ultimately, the answer to this question depends on the wearer. But as the saying goes – “You’ll never know when you might need it”, referring to the additional safety being like insurance.
For someone who doesn’t mind spending a few dollars more in exchange for peace of mind, a MIPS helmet is definitely worth it. However, others may feel that a regular helmet, as long as it is of high quality, manufactured by a reputable brand, and has passed safety certification, can be good enough to protect them from injury.
Q. How Does MIPS Affect Price?
A. Any helmet, if it is equipped with a unique feature, can merit a higher price tag. If the additional feature aims to protect the brain, then a few more dollars is reasonable. Helmets with the MIPS layer are typically slightly more expensive than standard helmets but can cost as low as $30 up to $300 or even higher, depending on the brand and size of the helmet.